What happens when you mistake user engagement for customer success

Edited excerpt (with emphasis added) from Slack, I’m Breaking Up with You by Samuel Hulick:

When there was all the talk of you [Slack] killing email, I have to admit I thought it was the email problem you were attacking, not just the email platform. Which is to say, I thought you were providing some relief from the torrential influx of messages, alerts, and notifications I was receiving on a daily basis. “Me + Slack = Fewer distractions and more productivity,” I thought at the time.

I have to say, though, that I’ve since found it to be the opposite. I’m finding that “always on” tendency to be a self-perpetuating feedback loop: the more everyone’s hanging out, the more conversations take place. The more conversations, the more everyone’s expected to participate. This really lowers the bar for what’s considered message-worthy to begin with.

Even your summaries of each week — the ones where you remind me about how our relationship is going — are all predicated on its volume of messages, which was kind of the opposite of what I thought you and I were all about.

(1) This is a poignant example of a company mistaking user engagement for customer success. Samuel adopted Slack because he thought it would make him more productive. But Slack measures its success by user engagement (the volume of messages), which conflicts with its users’ goal to become more productive.
(2) This problem is widespread. The tech industry has mastered how to maximize user engagement, but we often lose sight of the real goal — to empower users to achieve something worthwhile. Scientific studies show that Facebook, the most successful consumer product ever built as measured by daily users, makes people less happy. We’ve made content consumption irresistible with bite-size snacking and alluring headlines, but have dumbed down content in the process. And we’ve developed addictive games which, after extended periods of usage, leave people feeling empty and purposeless.
(3) How can product managers avoid mistaking user engagement for customer success? (i) Research the Job To Be Done and articulate it explicitly. This provides a definition of customer success. (ii) List the key requirements for users to get the job done. (iii) Even if you can’t measure customer success directly, and need to use a proxy for customer success such as user engagement, ensure that every product decision is justified in terms of the Job To Be Done and customer success.
(4) Cf. The key metric for your startup must satisfy these 4 criteria.

7 thoughts on “What happens when you mistake user engagement for customer success

  1. David,

    What evidence do you have that Slack is not gunning for gross engagement, and that that’s their success metric? I get that that’s not what Samuel was looking for, but maybe he’s the one who made the mistake.

    • Hi Eli,

      It sounds like Slack is gunning for gross engagement. That’s the point: engagement itself is rarely a sufficient definition of success for users. You want your success metric as a company to be aligned with your users’ success.

      • Hi David,

        That’s a good point. Still, Samuel’s success metric was “fewer distractions and more productivity,” and he rules Slack a failure based on those metrics. But how do we know that his success metrics are Slack’s? No one would rule Facebook a failure because it fails to give users “fewer distractions and more productivity.”

  2. With respect to your 4th note about Key Metrics, one of our investors recommended we look at Social Capital’s way of accounting for user growth (https://medium.com/swlh/diligence-at-social-capital-part-1-accounting-for-user-growth-4a8a449fddfc#.d4f3ux6t7).

    I’ve found the Quick Ratio to be super helpful, and graphing user growth this way (broken out by sub-categories: new, retained, resurrected, and churned) paints a very honest and clear picture of how you’re doing.

  3. Pingback: Is group chat a constant distraction for your employees? | A Founder's Notebook

  4. Pingback: Provide what your users really want | A Founder's Notebook

  5. This post extremely insightful: customer engagement is not value for a business productivity application. Slack also has a problem that it sends group messages that people on the periphery of a group have stopped contributing. To me it’s a variation on public shaming that is an effort to get them to re-engage but in reality I think it does more harm to the real community that the core Slack customer was trying to cultivate.

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